Mueller returns to ballet center stage
Anne Mueller lives in Portland’s Cully neighborhood and has commuted daily for the past couple of years to Hillsboro, where she has served as managing director of Bag&Baggage Productions, a performing arts theater company.Mueller has not minded the commute due to the joy and satisfaction she gets working on the business
side of things and with Scott Palmer, Bag&Baggage artistic director.
But it’s time for Mueller to come home. “At my core, I’m a dancer, and I did miss it. Dance has been the center of my life since I was a little tiny kid” she says. “When this opportunity came up, I couldn’t pass it up.”
Mueller, a standout principal dancer at Oregon Ballet Theatre for 16 years and later an executive, as well as co-founder of the Trey McIntyre Project, returns to the world of ballet in August. She’ll join Nancy Davis as co-artistic director at The Portland Ballet, a company for talented and aspiring dancers located in Hillsdale.
“It’s an academy and youth company, and I’ll be focusing on the upper levels, particularly the dancers on the cusp of seeking a professional career (around ages 15 to 22),” she says.
It won’t be a big adjustment for Mueller, who served in roles as artistic coordinator, director of artistic operations, and interim artistic director at OBT, while also teaching at OBT’s school off and on throughout her tenure.
“I coached the students for their annual school performance and choreographed narrative work for performances,” she says. “I enjoy working with students. They’re in a really ripe moment; they’ve had enough training, they’ve been at it awhile, there are a lot of tools in the toolbox. But they’re still sort of like moldable clay, and you have an opportunity to shape them before they’re in full form.”
Says Davis: “We have exciting plans for the future. Anne’s leadership, experience and energy will enable us to begin developing those plans this summer.”
Bag&Baggage certainly will miss Mueller, Palmer says, but the company already has hired Beth Lewis, a Forest Grove resident who has worked at Pasadena (Calif.) Playhouse and currently at Curious Comedy Theater, as her replacement. Mueller joined Bag&Baggage shortly after leaving OBT as interim artistic director in summer 2013 — when OBT hired Kevin Irving as artistic director, a job Mueller had sought.
“We’re very excited for her. Sad to have her leave, she’s been such a great partner and friend for me,” says Palmer, whose growing company puts on six shows a year and has a budget of about $500,000. “We’re delighted she can get back to her first passion, which is dance.”
On the business side, Mueller helped Hillsboro’s only theater company build its financial strength through increases in income, contributions and sponsorship.
“She’s deepened our relationship with the (Hillsboro/Forest Grove) community and strengthened us financially,” Palmer adds. Mueller, who choreographed Palmer’s “Kabuki-Titus” in 2012, helped choreograph some shows in the past couple years, such as “The Great Gatsby,” but mostly stuck with her business job.
Mueller stayed in the dance game through teaching at Portland Ballet, BodyVox and other places.
Mueller wanted to stick with OBT in an artistic director capacity, but she doesn’t foster any ill will toward the company. She’s excited to possibly work with OBT on some projects, while also working in the same arena as OBT’s school — teaching kids.
“In 20 years, Portland has gone from one major player (OBT) to a richer and dynamic (dance) environment,” she says, mentioning White Bird, BodyVox, Northwest Dance Project and others. “Portland Ballet and Oregon Ballet Theatre have existed side by side for 14 years. There are plenty of students and donors and support in place where both can survive. It’s the blessing of having a rich, diverse and vibrant dance community in the Portland area. There’s been a lot of reciprocal activities in the (ballet) organizations throughout the years.”
After Christopher Stowell left and Irving arrived, Mueller helped OBT navigate some tough times. “I was glad to provide leadership, stability and continuity during a delicate transition time,” she adds. “It was a wonderful opportunity to be a finalist for an artistic director position. They decided to go with Kevin and I didn’t feel that taking a step back within the organization would be the best for my development.”
For Bag&Baggage, it’ll be a smooth transition. Says Palmer: “Anne has layed the groundwork for us to be in a good position, financially. Beth comes in at an exciting time. She has development and fundraising experience to bring us to the next level.”